Are you looking for a quick and easy dish to bring to a picnic or BBQ? This creamy tuna pasta salad is the perfect healthy summer dish that you can make ahead of time.
Originally this dish was created by my grandma. You know grandma’s recipes are always best! I have tweaked the recipe slightly to make it just a bit healthier but the basic flavour is still like she made it. This recipe is always a success at BBQs and picnics, but it also works great as a quick midweek meal that can be prepped ahead of time.
The pasta itself is the only part of this dish that requires cooking. To upgrade the recipe you can use whole grain pasta instead of regular white pasta for a healthier version. Whole grain pasta is made from the entire wheat kernel, this makes it higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals than regular white pasta. The high fibre content prevents the carbs from being broken down fast. This means they are absorbed slower by your body. This is a good thing because it helps you to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Check out this WebMD article about the health benefits of whole-grain pasta if you want to learn more.
I always try to use whole-grain pasta whenever I can. Whole-grain pasta has a slightly different texture; it has a bit more of a bite and a nutty flavour. I actually prefer this in most dishes, but it might take some getting used to if you are not accustomed to whole-grain pasta. It’s a quick and easy swap to make your pasta dishes more nourishing.
In this instance, I’ve used whole-grain rigatoni pasta, but you can use whatever pasta you like. Any type of short pasta shape like rigatoni, penne, farfalle or fusilli will work great. You can’t really go wrong as long as you don’t use noodle type pasta like spaghetti or linguine. I’ve also found that dried pasta works better than fresh when it comes to salads. When cooked it still has more of a bite and this helps it to keep its shape. The smaller size of short pasta makes it easier to serve and eat.
This salad includes red onions, spring onions and chives. All of these have an oniony flavour which works great with the tuna. The red onions have the strongest flavour, use less of this if you want less of a strong onion aroma in your salad.
Three bell peppers might sound like a lot, but when diced into small cubes they will disappear into the salad. The bell peppers also give a fresh, sweet note that balances out the other flavours. I usually buy a set of a mixed variety of three bell peppers. It usually contains a red, yellow and orange variety. Sometimes one of these is swapped for a green version. The red bell pepper is sweetest, the green one is a bit more grassy and bitter in flavour. The mix looks pretty and colourful, but you could just as well use just one colour bell pepper. Just don’t use only green ones because you need some of the sweetness of the other coloured peppers.
If you don’t like any of these veggies you could always swap them for a vegetable you do like. The beauty of salads like these is that you can adapt them to your liking! Peas, diced celery or diced carrots would all work just fine. Be careful with wet vegetables like cucumber or tomatoes because they can make the salad soggy.
Herbs & Spices
Grandma always added a crumbled up fish stock cube and it works wonders! Make sure you grind it to a powder before adding and mix well. You don’t want to chew on half a stock cube. Stock cubes can contain loads of salt and additives, I like using organic stock cubes when I have to. Start by adding only half of the crumbled up cube and add more to taste.
Another little trick she used was adding a teaspoon of a ‘complete seasoning’ mix that is popular in Caribbean and South American cooking (sazon completa). This spice mix does add great flavour and can be added to almost any dish. I’ve used it for years until I decided to check the label. It turns out this great tasting spice mix contained MSG (monosodium glutamate) and other additives that I don’t want to consume. I've done some experimenting and created my very own Homemade Complete Seasoning Mix by blending some dried herbs and spices together and even though it doesn’t taste exactly the same it’s definitely a great alternative. Try this DIY seasoning mix yourself. It’s super easy to make and can be added to most stews, chicken, fish or meat dishes to give them some extra oomph.
The main ingredients to this mix are garlic and onion powder, so you could also just add a bit of these main ingredients to the salad if you want to take a shortcut. Remember, there is no wrong way to make this easy salad.
Honey mustard sauce or dressing adds a great flavour to many salads. Use a variety or brand that you like. I’ve tried several and now use a mild version that has no extra unnecessary additives.
How to make a creamy salad
This quick and easy tuna pasta salad is creamy and delicious. Originally only mayonnaise was used, but in order to make it more healthy, I’ve swapped half of the mayo for some sour cream, creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt. This swap makes the salad feel less greasy and more light and fresh. Make sure to first mix the tuna, veggies, herbs and spices together with the mayonnaise and creme fraiche. This ensures all flavours are combined and makes it easier to mix in the pasta as a last step.
You can’t make a tuna salad without tuna. This meaty fish is a great source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. I always buy canned tuna on water. This way you can decide how much oil or fat you want to add to a meal and you are also in control of the type of oil. Most canned tuna on oil is made with low-quality olive oil or sunflower oil.
Tips & Alternatives
- Pasta variety: Use whatever short shape pasta you like and have in your pantry. You really can’t go wrong here. Try whole-grain pasta for a healthier version of this dish.
- Pasta cooking time: The cooking time will vary depending on the type of pasta you decide to use. Check the packaging for exact cooking times. Make sure to add plenty of salt to the cooking water to season the pasta. Cook the pasta ‘al dente’, so that it still has a bit of a bite. To check you can scoop a piece of pasta out of the pan, give it a quick rinse under cold water to cool and give it a taste.
- Veggie variation: The combo of (spring) onions and bell peppers make this salad fresh and colourful. Try swapping out the veggies for peas or diced celery to mix things up.
- Fresh herbs: If you prefer using fresh herbs instead of dried I’d suggest trying dill or parsley.
- Make ahead: There aren’t any wet veggies in this salad, so it won’t go soggy. This makes it perfect for meal prep. Store the salad in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for about 3-4 days.
If you want to try other whole-grain pasta dishes then be sure to check out this Classic Homemade Lasagne. This ultimate comfort food dish is made with pure natural ingredients and can also be made ahead of time, making it perfect for meal prepping.
Other popular summer salads that are more low carb are this super simple and summery Caprese Salad or the vibrant and colourful Mexican Shrimp Salad. Both recipes are perfect for those sweltering summer days when you crave something fresh and light.